But I know where I'm headed next (thank god!) and that's been greatly aided by the break and even looking back at the story. And in looking back, I wanted to touch on some symbolism and themes.
The past stretch of chapters has centered around Buffy's relationship with the Decoy and her conflict with the Immortal. First with the Decoy, Lara is meant to represent both Buffy's past and present. Buffy gets to watch Lara relive Buffy's past when she has to kill the Immortal. As for the present, the way Buffy has set-up this situation that's led to Lara's deterioration of identity and even sanity is meant to highlight how Buffy herself has lost her way in Season 8. By setting up this great hulking Slayer organization, she's become a person who sets up decoys to be her and who robs banks - hamnoo, Buffy?
The battle with the Immortal mirrors Buffy's past battle and relationship with Angel. I wonder if these were obvious to the reader in the story but here they are:
1) Buffy stabs the Immortal with a sword through the chest a la Becoming Pt 2.
2) Buffy punches him in the groin a la Innocence.
3) Buffy steals Angel's phrase of "I'm a funny guy" and throws it at the Immortal.
4) In the end, it isn't the weapons that defeat him, but the oubliette which is a black orb. It's the inverse of the Orb of Thesulah which brings light. The oubliette brings darkness. The oubliette also borrows some imagery from Acathla's mouth opening and closing and sucking Angel within, only with its black tentacles. The oubliette is a different kind of hell than what Angel was sucked into - one where you suffer complete loss of knowledge and identity - but it's still a hellish place to be trapped.
5) And of course the final parallel of Lara being forced to kill the man she loves just as Buffy was forced to kill Angel.
I hope the symbolism and parallels here weren't too heavy-handed. The main premise was to have Buffy relive her past trauma with Angel by watching it happen with Lara and the Immortal. And in a way, exorcising the demon. As much time as I've spent bringing Spike back into Buffy's world, I've put a lot of energy into saying goodbye to Angel and having Buffy begin to let go of him and move on. Author's privilege, naturally, because I like her better with Spike. But I felt it was essential to do that, to make that choice and to earn it with Buffy's characterization because in Chosen, she's shown as being torn between the two and this is also true in the Season 8 comics.
While my preference is clear in terms of Spike being paired with Buffy, I also hold great respect for Angel and back in the day I used to 'ship Buffy/Angel. So I wanted to show that they still carried great affection for each other, but that they'd just moved on to different stages in their lives - that they don't know each other anymore. So I hope I gave Angel his due, but it was all with the intent of helping Buffy move past him and her issues with him. And, of course, after reliving her past with Angel by watching Lara, she then dreams about how she's destined to kill the ones she closest to her (a fear that's born from having to kill Angel). So it's a work in progress with her, but isn't it always? Working out her issues.